Chancellor James B. Milliken

Chancellor James B. Milliken

Appointed to start on June 1, 2014, James B. Milliken serves as Chancellor of The City University of New York. ยป

The Past Is Prologue: What’s Next for Public Higher Education

September 26, 2006 | Speeches and Testimony

Thank you, Dick (Weismann). It’s always wonderful to be here at the Manhattan Institute, and to see so many friends and colleagues of mine, including trustees of the University, presidents of the CUNY colleges, and so many others. I really appreciate all of you coming.

In 1997—when I had a little more energy and a little more spunk—I addressed the Manhattan Institute and said that we really needed to do something about The City University of New York.

I was then the president of Baruch College, and I was disturbed by seeing so many wonderful students at Baruch who were not being given an opportunity to reach their real potential. Employers were not taking them seriously, and they were not competing well for admission into the best graduate and professional schools

I realized that I needed to do something about this, and I mulled over several reforms. I thought that there had to be a serious effort to change standards, and that the University ought to create texture by tiering the system. I thought that accountability should be built into the system. I thought that there should be performance goals set throughout the system, and that people ought to be rewarded for performing well—and that those who were not performing should not be rewarded. And I thought that remediation should be remanded to specific areas of the University.

These ideas got mixed reviews. Some people felt that they did not represent what the City University is. But I remember being a student at City College between 1959 and 1963, when you walked with your head up high because being there was a badge of honor. All of us were poor kids. I remember working 20 hours a week and always shifting my schedule to take advantage of every opportunity: taking classes whenever I could and getting downtown to my job. But when people heard that you were at CCNY, they viewed you with a certain admiration.

Shortly after my 1997 speech, Mayor Giuliani appointed Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University, to chair a task force to look into CUNY. I read the task force’s report and thought there were quite a few familiar-sounding suggestions in it. And I believed that if we could accomplish them, it would be an important development for the University.

Before I knew it, I was recruited to be the chancellor—and it’s been an exhilarating seven-year ride. We have tiered the system. We have a group of selective institutions whose academic profile is comparable to some of the better state universities and some of the finer private universities. And our students are now being looked upon with favor by employers and graduate and professional schools.

By tiering the system, we created multiple points of entry. Students who may not have a strong academic profile have an opportunity to enter the University, and if they are motivated, work hard, and perform, they can get into the top-tier colleges.

So we have maintained access, but we have built in accountability in ways that didn’t exist before. We assess students now with nationally normed tests. In addition, every student must pass our CUNY Proficiency Exam, a junior-year test that very few universities have, in order to progress beyond 60 credits at the University.

When I came in as chancellor, student test scores on the two state teacher education exams were quite low. Now, the average is in the high 90s, with 98 to 99 percent of the students taking these examinations passing and going on to become teachers, not only in New York City, but throughout the nation.

Creating a flagship environment was essential for this University. I knew that the core of a great university is a very fine faculty and very fine students. And since 1998, we have hired 1,000 additional full-time faculty, scholars whose academic records are as good as you will find at most competitive institutions.

Given limited resources, we have chosen a group of academic fields that, with the proper allocation of resources, can be major players in higher education—such as photonics, digital media, and teacher education. That investment is paying off.

We have replaced all but five leaders at the University’s 22 colleges and professional schools. We have worked hard to ensure that we are bringing in some of the best leaders as presidents and deans throughout the University.

We have implemented the first performance management system of any university in the United States, a very rigorous performance review that takes place throughout the academic year. I spend the better part of my summer meeting one on one with each president, reviewing the goals and the indicators of those goals. I believe in measurement; if you can measure it, I want to look at it. Then we make decisions about compensation based, in part, on that review, and those decisions translate down to the academic programs and administrators at our campuses.

We have created an honors college. Today, the CUNY Honors College has about 1,260 students. The average SAT score of the latest class is now hovering around 1,400. Clearly, these are students who can apply to some of the best institutions in the United States and be given favorable consideration.

But today, through the Honors College, the City of New York is their campus. The New-York Historical Society, the American Museum of Natural History, MOMA, the Metropolitan Opera House: all of these organizations are now partners with us, as we bring the full benefit of the cultural and intellectual life of this great city to the experience of these Honors College students.

I went to the first Honors College commencement two years ago, and while I don’t want to get too sentimental, I was absolutely delighted that day, and felt that I was seeing a child who had developed to full maturation, with so many students graduating Phi Beta Kappa, going to the best law schools, medical schools, and Ph.D. programs in the country, and getting into some of the best training programs in financial institutions. And each class of Honors College students gets better and better.

We have just found a home for the Honors College in one of the great cultural hubs in New York City on West 67th Street in Manhattan, and we will be moving the college into that facility by the end of next summer.

We opened a new Graduate School of Journalism this year, housed in the original home of the New York Herald Tribune, contiguous to the New York Times building. The school can already take advantage of this city’s great history of journalism and be associated with the new tower that is going up for the Times.

Stephen Shepard, the former editor-in-chief of Business Week, is our founding dean. The first class started just two weeks ago, and they are an absolutely phenomenal, diverse group of people. Their undergraduate training and their test scores are as good as you will find at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, at Medill, or at Berkeley, and we are very, very proud of them.

We have also created a new School of Professional Studies, a nimble, “off-balance-sheet” program that allows the university to respond to the market. When businesses, government, or nonprofits need academic training that cannot be accomplished through regular academic programs, we are able to quickly and thoroughly design a program that meets their needs. The revenue generated from the school is going to support our Ph.D. programs.

Finally, the creation that I am officially announcing today is the city’s first public Graduate School of Public Health.

Statistics indicate that by the year 2007—next year—half the population in the world is going to be in an urban area. And demographers are predicting that by 2030, three-quarters of the Earth’s population is going to be in urban areas. Urban environments today are facing major health challenges, including obesity, diabetes, tuberculosis, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Clearly, an urban university with the stature of The City University of New York needs to create a new Graduate School of Public Health. We are going to locate this new graduate school at Hunter College, and the college’s president, Jennifer Raab, will take the lead in developing this project.

This is just a sampling of the many changes that have been made at CUNY; I could go on for hours talking about other accomplishments. But we could not have done any of these things had we not first made very serious efforts to change the conversation and establish real reforms.

Now I’d like to talk about the future. Specifically, I’d like to describe four areas that represent major challenges to public higher education.

First, let me give you some interesting statistics related to state funding of public higher education. From 1989 to 2006, at The City University of New York—and the situation is likely similar at The State University of New York—tuition revenue to support operations increased by 293 percent at our senior colleges. During that same period, tuition revenue to support operations at our two-year colleges has gone up 207 percent.

During that same period, direct support from the State of New York for CUNY’s senior colleges increased by just 18 percent. So, while students bear a 293 percent increase, the State of New York bears an 18 percent increase.

Today, in terms of funding, the line between public universities and private universities is increasingly blurred. If an alien were to land in Northern California and look to the left and see Berkeley, and look to the right and see Stanford, and ask, which one is public and which one is private, it would be a very hard question to answer.

What we are seeing today in the financing of public higher education is a movement away from government and more toward students. I don’t think that is a good thing. That’s observation number one.

Observation number two is that in my own experience as chancellor over the last seven years, public higher education has played a game with Albany. The chancellor makes a recommendation for resources, based on an honest assessment of the University’s needs, and our experience has been that we are left wanting. Mandatory costs, for collective bargaining and so forth, are met, but if you want to build a great University, you must make a real investment.

What I have suggested this year is a totally different approach to supporting the University, and I think it is starting to be emulated by other public universities. At CUNY we call it the Compact, because it is an agreement among stakeholders. The stakeholders for public higher education are government, the university in question, students, and friends, alumni, and supporters.

It seems to me that those four stakeholders have to work in partnership in order to achieve true investment—that is, the resources that an institution needs now and into the future to offer students the very best educational opportunities.

The CUNY Compact asks the government for 20 cents on the dollar: you give us 20 cents and we will generate the other 80 cents through the other stakeholders.

How are we going to do it? The University has an important role in generating some of that revenue through redeployment of resources, managed enrollment growth, and true productivity and efficiencies.

Students must not continue to bear the major brunt of this funding shift away from government support. First, what we need in this state is a rational tuition policy. Rather than calling for big spikes in tuition when there is a downturn in the economy—when people can least afford it—let’s have continuous, small increases in tuition, always being sure that the most vulnerable among us are protected. No one who has the will and the motivation and the academic credentials should be prohibited from matriculating at this University. We have to find a way to support those who are financially at risk, and I think that through a rational policy of tuition increases, based on information from a basket of economic indicators, we can get there.

Second, we need to deregulate tuition. What do I mean by this? Right now, we have a one-size-fits-all approach. We ought to look at the market demand for different academic programs, and

what kind of price elasticity we have, in order to address changing the tuition policies based on what the market can bear. I’d like to take the difference between what we would change in an unregulated environment and what we charge now, and invest those funds back to those particular programs. We will find a way to do this.

The Compact also works in partnership with another group of stakeholders: alumni, friends, and supporters. In our field of dreams, I would give each president a key and the president would get up in the morning, open up the gate with that key, and hope all the students and the money would just flow in and do good work, and, at the end of the day, close that gate with the key and start all over again the next day. That dream is over.

The City University of New York announced two years ago a fundraising campaign with a very modest goal of $1.2 billion. Some people thought this was crazy. We have never raised that kind of money. But I’m pleased to stand in front of you today and say that we have raised over $800 million toward that goal in a relatively short time.

The CUNY Compact is an approach to generating investment in the University that does not place the burden of that investment solely on the shoulders of taxpayers. That’s just not doable. Unless we find a fresh approach to financing our needs, we will not be able to move forward.

Let me talk about a second area of challenge to public higher education. Secretary Spellings just released a commission report on the future of higher education. And in the preamble to that report, it says, and I quote, “Access to higher education in the United States is unduly limited by the complex interplay of inadequate preparation, lack of information about college opportunities, and consistent financial barriers.” This especially affects underserved and nontraditional groups.

Recent data reinforces what the Spellings Commission has said. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that by ages 25 to 29, about 34 of every 100 white students obtains a bachelor’s degree, compared to 17 of every 100 black students, and just 11 of every 100 Latino students.

Let me offer another data point: in 2006, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 36 percent of college-qualified low-income students completes a bachelor’s degree within eight-and-a-half years, compared with 81 percent of high-income students.

Last year, the College Board looked at the percentage of family income needed to cover net college costs after grant aid is factored in. For family incomes under $62,000—a very modest income—66 percent of the income is needed to pay for two-year public institutions. For four-year public institutions, 73 percent of the income is needed.

And the statistic that I found particularly striking has to do with the disconnect between universities and K-12 schools. This year, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 44 percent of university faculty surveyed say that students are well prepared for college-level writing—compared to the 90 percent of high school teachers who think they are prepared. Talk about a disconnect.

This disconnect between schools and universities has to be closed if we are going to progress in this society. There must be an alignment between what universities’ expectations are and what schools are producing. It is not happening today.

If we are serious about educating the whole people, then financial aid must be reformed to address the most financially vulnerable, those who are qualified and desire postsecondary education.

And we must take steps to ensure that our students are better prepared. In New York City, only about 35 percent of ninth graders earn a Regents Diploma—a college preparatory diploma—in four years. And this is not just happening in New York, but all over the United States. This is a systemic problem that is not getting better and, in some cases, is getting worse.

The third area that must be addressed by the higher education community is our investment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs. Today, scientific literacy is a sine qua non for an educated citizenry, and for our nation to be globally competitive. Unless students today have a certain level of scientific literacy, they are not going to be players in an economy that is rapidly changing in favor of people who are.

You have heard the refrain: there are too few competent teachers in mathematics and in the sciences. At CUNY, we are addressing that problem under the leadership of Dr. Selma Botman, our University Provost, through our new Teacher Academy. The academy’s goal is to educate students who are well prepared to teach math and science in New York City’s high-need junior high and high schools.

Too few students in the United States are studying these fields. The STEM fields are difficult, and unless you start early and have the foundation, you will not be competitive. Many students who are working in graduate school laboratories in the United States are students visiting from another country, who eventually return home.

Our country is being outgunned by places like China and India. China has set a goal to develop and fund 100 world-class universities through the China 211 Project. (In fact, I will be visiting China in November to see what opportunities exist for CUNY through this project.)

In addition, the European Union has plans to create a world-class technological institute. A primary objective of the Bologna Process, which I was very involved in a couple of years ago, is to create a competitive European higher education sector.

The United States must wake up to these challenges. We must train more American students and bring—and keep—more international students to the United States.

At CUNY, we announced last year that the years 2005 through 2015 are going to be the Decade of Science at the University. During this period, we expect to expend about $1 billion in capital appropriations for new science facilities all over the University, and to make very serious investments in hiring faculty and bringing some of the best doctoral students to the University.

We are going to invest in specific disciplines: photonics, nanotechnology, biosensing, structural biology, and neuroscience, to name a few. This is a big gamble for the University, but a gamble that I think is well worth making, if we expect our students to succeed in this very competitive marketplace.

But there must also be some changes in federal regulations. We support the effort that provides international students who graduate with an advanced STEM degree from a U.S. university with an expedited path to an employer-sponsored green card. They should also be exempt from the numerical cap for green cards.

And second, we support eliminating the requirement that in order to receive a student visa, all students must prove that they have no intention to remain in the United States after graduating. We need to bring to this country some of the great young people who are studying now in China and India and across the globe, because there are simply too few of them here in the United States. We need to provide a regulatory framework that enables them to work for companies here in the United States.

Finally, the last challenge for public higher education that I will mention concerns accountability. The performance assessment review that we have at The City University, which was instigated about four years ago, is probably the most comprehensive process of evaluation by any university. Our goal is to measure as many areas as possible and to make the information available, so that there is true transparency.

What we lack are good data on how the institution adds value to student learning and how this compares to other peer institutions. This is not an easy measurement. We need to know what students know when they come in on day one, and what they know when they leave at the end of their time at a higher education institution. This is a real minefield.

But in order for us to get the kind of political support that we need for this country to truly embrace the value of higher education, we must be able to stand tall and proudly show what we have done. The next phase of measurement must focus on that.

I think I’ll stop here. I am happy to answer any questions.